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Unions call on Ottawa's mayor to invest in services as 2024 budget targets 2.5 per cent tax hike

Council has directed staff to draft the 2024 city of Ottawa budget with a maximum 2.5 per cent property tax hike, as seven unions representing 20,000 municipal employees call on Mayor Mark Sutcliffe to invest in "the municipal services and workers that the city relies on."

Council voted 17 to 8 in favour of a drafting the budget with a 2.5 per cent tax hike, which would add an additional $105 to the average property tax bill.  The budget will be drafted with a 2.5 per cent increase in the police and transit levy, along with a 2.5 per cent increase in transit fares.

Councillors Ariel Troster, Sean Devine, Jessica Bradley, Rawlson King, Jeff Leiper, Theresa Kavanagh, Shawn Menard and Laine Johnson voted against the 2.5 per cent property tax increase budget direction.

"I believe that building an affordable city requires investment. By placing an arbitrary cap on budget direction, the city hampers its ability to provide essential services and infrastructure improvements," King told council.

"We hear complaints from our residents day after day about the declining and degraded quality of our amenities, services and infrastructure. The only way to redress these concerns is to ensure that our city is investing in these services and infrastructure beyond the rate of inflation so that the city can positively enhance the quality of life of its residents."

Coun. Troster said with inflation at 3 per cent, a 2.5 per cent property tax increase is "functionally a service cut."

"I don't know where else we can cut. Right now, frontline services are not meeting the need in Somerset Ward, not even close," Troster said.

"I've really seen some horrendous conditions that people are living in."

However, the majority of councillors voted with Mayor Sutcliffe to set the property tax increase at 2.5 per cent in 2024.

"We need to focus on the basics, and asking our residents for more than 2.5 per cent at this time I consider to be inappropriate considering who it would disadvantage," Coun. Marty Carr said.

Coun. Matthew Luloff told council that, "Money isn't free."

"We need to learn to live within our means and if it's not a service that's within our purview, we need to jettison it," Luloff said. "We need to stop pretending that money is free, that our residents are an ATM and get real with this budget by keeping our taxes low because people cannot afford to be burdened by more taxes at this very, very difficult economic time."

Shortly before council debated the budget directions, the unions representing police officers, firefighters, OC Transpo employees and other workers at Ottawa City Hall issued a letter calling on the mayor to "provide a vision for the city that goes beyond another round of cuts."

"City workers are striving to do more with less in the context of increased community demand and previous rounds of cuts," the unions said in a media release.

"We look at the work of our members and the services they provide, and we do not see room for additional cuts."

The letter is signed by the Ottawa Police Association, Ottawa Professional Firefighters Association – Local 162, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Locals 279 and 1760, the Civic Institute of Professional Personnel, and CUPE locals 503 and 5500 representing inside and outside workers at Ottawa City Hall.

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA's "Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron" Wednesday afternoon, ATU Local 279 president Clint Crabtree said the possibility of service cuts is a "shared concern" among the unions, but he's taking Sutcliffe at his word when he says cuts aren't part of the plan.

"I have a good working relationship and we talk, and what he said to me is that is not their plan; their plan is to make improvements," Crabtree said. "I am very optimistic about what I said to him and the conversation we had today. I support him. I did support the mayor in his mayoral race, so I will take that as his word."

Sutcliffe promised during the 2022 municipal election campaign to cap property tax increases at 2.5 per cent for 2023 and 2024.

A report for the finance and corporate services committee warned OC Transpo is facing "the greatest financial challenge" of all city services in 2024, with an expected $35 million revenue shortfall next year.  Staff say OC Transpo is continuing a "Service Review" to reduce spending in 2024, including aligning bus routes to current ridership levels.

City Manager Wendy Stephanson told council the budget will invest in council's priorities, determined at the start of the mandate.

"When we do table the budget this time is it's going to be tied to our term of council priorities, so you're going to see investments going to the areas most important to council," Stephanson said Wednesday.

The unions are calling on the city to invest in municipal services and workers.

"Municipal employees deliver services the people of Ottawa count on every day. In recent years, they have been on the front lines responding to major emergencies such as the pandemic, floods, storms and tornadoes," the unions said.

"The unions are calling on Mayor Sutcliffe and Council to invest in the people and public services that we all count on."

The city of Ottawa implemented a discretionary spending freeze and a hiring pause for positions not impacting service delivery in the spring to offset a projected multimillion-dollar budget deficit in 2023.  The city is projecting a $6.6 million budget deficit in 2023, due to significant weather events this year.

Mayor not in favour of new taxes

Toronto city council voted in favour of new revenue tools to help deal with a billion-dollar budget hole, including studying a commercial parking levy and increasing the vacant home tax. Councillors also voted to ask the province for permission to implement a municipal sales tax for goods and services.

Sutcliffe says while municipalities are facing financial challenges, he does not support new taxes.

"There's no questions that we have some big challenges financially. It's very difficult to make the numbers work with big files like transit and housing and homelessness, so we face big challenges and we need the support of our federal and provincial partners to meet those challenges going forward," Sutcliffe said.

"I'm not interested in adding to the tax burden of Ottawa residents; I think they pay a lot of taxes already. I think we need to sit down with the provincial and federal governments and find ways that they can support us, on things like transit going forward, without increasing the tax burden on Ottawa residents." Top Stories

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